At the east end of Queen Street, beyond the railway that
climbs through what's left of the once booming Cardiff valleys, is Newport
Road. This is the old highway which runs like an arrow the dozen or
so miles to Cardiff's almost-forgotten neighbour, Newport. Built to
ship iron from the mouth of the Usk Newport has little glory save the
heritage of its unique transporter bridge. And even that got located
as Cardiff for Rank's 1959 film production of Tiger Bay. At their
end the highway is called Cardiff Road, a bright prospect you'd imagine,
but most Newportians resent the flash and dominance of the Welsh capital.
That's what's wrong with it, they insist, it's Welsh.
Newport Road moves out from Cardiff centre through a rush of merchant
banks, high-rise consultancies and outposts of the multi-nationals
which govern the western world. Jammed incongruously here on a road
of such permanent haste is the Institute for the Blind. This 50s glass
palace sells large print books, bells which tell their owners when
it's raining and devices which let them fill their tea-cups just to
the top. Behind its frontage is the Boucher Hall. Here, in 1965, Geraint
Jarman, Finch, David Callard and one Wyn Islwyn Davies, now vanished
from creative sight like Arthur Cravan, mounted the first ever Second
Aeon poetry reading. This was in front of an audience of ten friends
and five strangers, rattling loudly in a space designed for several
The road, as it stretches on, away from the city, is ranged with
hefty Victorian merchant residences. These are now converted almost
entirely to one-stop, satellite TV in all rooms, vacancies, we welcome
construction workers, bar, secure lock-up car park at back, two harp
WTB recommended, if no answer knock at side-door hotels. Bronte, Blue
Dragon, Courtlands, Glenmor, Imperial, Metropole, Marlborough. Groups
of men - shopfitters from Bristol, trench-diggers from Wexford, electricians
from Dudley - wearing check shirts and calf-high suede boots gather
on the pavements here each night and wonder which way it is to the
lights. I brought the Czech poet Miroslav Holub once. An overnight
stop after his reading at the University. The rain was sheeting down
as it does in Hollywood films depicting New York. We entered the foyer
to find buckets catching leaks and a fall of water rolling its way
from landing to hall. "Like home," he smiled. "I'll like it here."
The Blue Dragon
Back of the main road are the hostels for reforming alcoholics,
the doss joints for the homeless and charity refuges for drug victims
on the cure and the ragged embittered who just don't care. The pavements
are wide and cars park right across them. If you're pushing a pram,
sod you. In the long stretch beyond St Peter's Rugby Club - once the
only place in all of East Cardiff where you could drink after 10.30
pm - I'm accosted by a rancorous wreck making kokutsu-dachi with an
empty cider tin in one hand and a Guinness bottle in the other. "You
bastard," he moans. The weak, wet rage of the destroyed. Terry, long-term
delinquent and loony stopped here with his wife in a wheel-chair and
played harmonica to passing traffic before passing out. No one stopped.
She's dead now. He's inside.
Towards the funeral home - The Roath Court - and one of the oldest
sites in the city - use turns to residential care for the elderly.
Front lawns are lost below white gravel, flowers are in baskets. There
are bright signs and powder paper faces peer out through window corners.
In the sixties I had a flat just beyond here. Two rooms stuffed with
fervent bohemianism Visions of Johanna, Roadrunner, Doors of Perception,
Duluoz, dharma, Bomb Culture, Needle of Death. Real needles in the
gardens now, when I look. The road goes on. It always did.
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